December 13, 2004

Celebrate the new year with the wisdom of the ages

Filed under: Art and About Holidays — admin @ 4:03 pm

The New Year is around the corner and I have many resolutions, including one that I have renewed every January 1 for the last 14 years — to live a more artful life. It’s the sentiment that informs this column, and every now and again I run into a great quote from someone far more artsy than I am underscoring the same ideal. I envy their succinctness because it takes me 600 words every two weeks to say in Art and About what they say in one sentence. But, as Charles Bukowski wrote in “Notes of a Dirty Old Man,” “An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.”

My New Year’s wish for all of you is that you will embrace and nurture the artist within yourself, if you haven’t already. But you don’t have to listen to me. Here’s what the heavy hitters have to say.

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance . . . and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” – Henry James

“Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassiere. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassiere is the French word for life-jacket.” – Julian Barnes

“Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement; art is great matter. Art is an organ of human life, transmitting man’s reasonable perception into feeling. In our age the common religious perception of men is the consciousness of the brotherhood of man-we know that the well-being of man lies in the union with his fellow men. True science should indicate the various methods of applying this consciousness to life. Art should transform this perception into feeling. The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man is now obtained by external means-by law courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, etc.-should be obtained by man’s free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside. And it is only art that can accomplish this.” – Leo N. Tolstoy
(O.K., so Tolstoy also needed 600 words.)

“Art is the highest task and proper metaphysical activity of this life.” – Nietzsche

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.” – Oscar Wilde

“Life is not a support system for art. It is the other way around.” – Stephen King

“The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul.” – Wassily Kaninsky

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” – Stella Adler

“Art is a way of saying what it means to be alive, and the most salient feature of existence is the unthinkable odds against it. For every way that there is of being here, there are an infinity of ways of not being here. Historical accident snuffs out whole universes with every clock tick. Statistics declare us ridiculous. Thermodynamics prohibits us. Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible, and my life—this, here, now—infinitely more so. Art is a way of saying, in the face of all that impossibility, just how worth celebrating it is to be able to say anything at all.” – Richard Powers

“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse

December 2, 2004

Embracing the Pathetic Tree

Filed under: Art and About Holidays — admin @ 4:18 pm

When my husband and I moved in together 10 years ago, our parents presented us with collections of Christmas ornaments from our youth so we could put them on our first commingled Christmas tree. At first, we politely said thank-you, unsure that the crude and imperfect ornaments would have a place on our “grown-up tree.” Together, we had bought more than enough ornaments that reflected our mutual taste, and they were definitely more polished then the lot of homemade and well-worn ornaments from our childhoods.

That first year we put the pathetic ornaments on the tree more out of obligation than sentiment. Most of them were placed on the back. During the next few years, they were the topic of derision, each of us teasing the other that his or her collection was the most pathetic assemblage of “Christmas Past” ever amassed. Some of my husband’s ornaments still make me laugh aloud when I unpack them. But I laugh harder at some of my own ornaments when I remember what my husband has said about them.

After we bought our first house, and had a little more room for decoration, we decided to segregate our ornaments, busing the ornaments from our youth off to a separate room and a less-than-equal tree. We bought a small artificial tree, put in on a corner coffee table, and designated it “The Tree of Our Youths,” although colloquially it was referred to as “The Pathetic Tree.” However, not once did we consider leaving those ornaments in storage, banished from Christmas splendor forever.

Those ornaments continue to have a strange hold over us. They are packed on the last layer of the last ornament box I open every year. Unlike our chichi ornaments, which each get an individual cardboard compartment in our ornaments boxes, the pathetic collection is squished together in whatever units are left vacant when all the other ornaments have been carefully wrapped and put away. Every year, I think about the bevy of ornaments we have acquired from friends and family, and I think it is time to use that artificial tree to highlight another subset of our collection. But instead, we choose to force the larger, dominant tree to become overstuffed with “quality” ornaments, while The Pathetic Tree is allowed to give each ornament the proper amount of airspace for optimum display.

This Christmas, a home remodeling project is encroaching on our living room, the center of all our Christmas decorating activity, and we decided to give many decorations a year off rather than watch them be smothered by construction dust. The artificial tree is acting as our primary arboreal accessory this year and it is adorned with some of the family’s favorite ornaments. None of the pathetic collection made the cut. And as you probably have guessed, I miss that motley crew.
Amateur psychology might suggest that the inclusion of those ornaments in our yearly celebration is a physical reminder of the Christmases of our youth, full of wonder, warmth and mystery. And that may be partially true. But I think what I miss most is that almost all those ornaments were either made by our own hands, made by someone for us, or they were personally selected to represent us in some way — my husband, the soccer player or me, the angel.

And I admit, not every ornament relegated to The Pathetic Tree is old. Sometimes, an ornament crafted by a friend or family member gets hung on that tree—ornaments that have more emotional and sentimental value than the average gift. Perhaps The Pathos Tree would be a better moniker. Next December when those ornaments see the light of day, they will be treated with the proper respect afforded the Elders.